Theory of Change #044: Cory Doctorow on anti-trust and the original promise of the internet
Technology activist and author Cory Doctorow discusses 30 years of the Worldwide Web
It’s been almost 30 years since Mosaic, the first popular web browser was released in 1993. So much has changed, both technologically and socially, but what has the web wrought?
In its earliest days, the internet was seen as a tool that would democratize information and greatly expand our ability to share knowledge and expression. That certainly has happened to a large degree, but humanity’s power structures seem to have adapted to the web as well, for good and ill.
Thirty years after its emergence, was the web more of a technological revolution rather than a societal one? Have corporate monopolies and political extremists ruined the internet? And if so, what can the rest of us do about it? And what about cryptocurrencies? Are they a way to restore the zeitgeist of the early internet, or are they just another form of internet scam?
Joining us to discuss today is Cory Doctorow, he’s an author, activist, and journalist who blogs at Pluralistic.net. And he also works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that’s an organization that works to protect digital rights.
He’s written many books, both fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novel is Attack Surface, a story about a cybersecurity expert caught between her job and justice. His most recent non-fiction book is going to be coming out in September called Choke Point Capitalism, that’s a examination of how media monopolies are using their power to exploit content creators.
The unedited video of our June 2, 2022 conversation is below. A transcript of the edited audio follows.
MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here, Cory.
CORY DOCTOROW: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SHEFFIELD: All right. So as I said in the intro, people saw a lot of promise in the internet in its earliest days, in its infancy. And I was making websites in 1996. You were there in the early web as well. So I figured we could talk shop about what people saw in the web in the beginning, and whether that transpired, and then we’ll get into some of the other things.
DOCTOROW: Sure. The the glory days of the blink tag.
SHEFFIELD: That’s right. Yeah. The government did play a significant role in the creation of the internet, both in the United States, and and obviously in the beginning with CERN where Tim Berners-Lee was working. And so the government was always there in the beginning, but it wasn’t always government. And there was, in the beginning, a sort of what cowboy ethos, is that fair to say?
DOCTOROW: Well, sure. I mean, there were some literal cowboys involved, like John Perry Barlow. So I think you can say that for sure.
I think I know where you’re going with this and, I think there is a story about what went wrong with early technological optimism, and and how it went off the rails, or what its blind spots were.
And the story, the nutshell version of it, is that people thought that once you added internet to the lives of everyone else, that it [00:04:00] would produce a kind of unalloyed good of personal technological liberation and self determination. People would seize the means of computation, figure out how to use it for themselves, and become more powerful and build better communities and solve collective action problems, do all kinds of amazing things. And what they, and they completely were blind to the possibility, that either states or corporations would hijack these new digital networks and use them for their own purposes.
And I think that this is wrong as a purely technical matter, and having been associated with those people for a long time, the very same people are accused of this naivete. I’ve worked with Electronic Frontier Foundation now for 20 years.
I just don’t recognize that account of them. I don’t think anyone would found an organization like Electronic Frontier Foundation if they think everything is going to be fine, you have to both be alive to the liberatory potential of computers and the problems of computers, the ways in which they could become nightmarish.
I like to say that the ethic of that age was ‘this could all be so great, but only if we don’t all screw it up.’
And I think that people were very worried about screwing it up, but that’s not to say that they didn’t have a blind spot, because obviously, I think there’s a pretty good case that we screwed it up.
And I think the blind spot that certainly I had back then, and I think a lot of my colleagues had back then, was a failure to appreciate just how weak and sick and dying antitrust law was.
It was easy to think, in the wake of the AT&T breakup, which really gave us the modern digital revolution, AT&T at the time, it had allies who said, oh, we can’t break up AT&T because there’s this Asian authoritarian power who are militarily adverse to us who steal American technology and are bent on destroying American high tech capacity.
They’re talking about Japan, right? We got the same rhetoric today and we just moved one country over to China. And they [00:06:00] said AT&T is our national champion that’s going to defend us from the hegemony.
And I think that what actually was the case was that AT&T had been sort of standing on the face of American tech and in particular, trying to stop private individuals from having access to modems because modems, they’re very worried about because modems fundamentally were about enabling the provision of service from the edge to the edge.
So I could stand up a bulletin board, and you could get a modem, and you could dial into that bulletin board and I could provide you service that AT&T might otherwise have charged access for. Think about how back in those days, if you got an AT&T phone bill, it would have a line item on it for caller ID. Because they charged you extra to find out who the phone who was calling you before you picked up the phone.
It’s as though if AT&T had provided email, they might have charged you extra to see the from line before you clicked open. They like that, right? It was a kind of urinary tract infection business model, where all the value flowed in a kind of painful burning drip and every feature cost an extra dime on your bill.
So they really didn’t like, they really didn’t like modems. And so getting rid of AT&T opened up a lot of room for new innovative firms and new forms of community, new ways to solve collective action problems, new ways to do all kinds of amazing things, because it was edge to edge. It was you over there in your hometown and me over here in my hometown, in our living rooms, communicating with each other without AT&T getting in the middle of it and extracting some rent for permission for us to talk to one another.
So if you lived through that, and you lived through this seven year antitrust investigation into Microsoft, you could be forgiven for thinking, we actually have a powerful state that will intervene to prevent firms from dominating technology and from acting as defacto regulators, right? Deciding how we live our lives, because the [00:08:00] ability to control or blast modems was really the ability to decide whether or not people would be part of the digital world.
And so it’s every bit as much an act of law-making, as if the state had made the law, except it’s not being made by people who are at least notionally, democratically, accountable. It’s being done by people in a boardroom who only answer to their shareholders.
So it was easy to, it was easy to think that maybe we were going to have this perpetual motion machine of tech, where you have a firm that grows very big and dominates, and then another firm comes out of nowhere, literally two college kids who were selling AT&T long distance defeat boxes, the blue boxes door to door who then go into a garage and invent the Apple I, and then turn it into the Apple II, and then the Apple II+, and launch a new computer that is as popular as anything that IBM is making. And IBM is this behemoth.
It was easy at the time to think: ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to get the rise of AT&T, and then you’re going to get the rise of Silicon Graphics off the back of AT&T, and then Silicon Graphics will collapse and you’ll get a Compaq,’ and so on, and so on. That you’ll have all of these amazing foments and that if you are a technologist, and the people who were really excited about the future of technology at the time were mostly technologists.
There was also this thing where like: ‘Oh yeah, sure. I clock in every day at Silicon Graphics or whatever, but you know, couple of years from now, I’ll just go off and start another company and then I’ll, kill Silicon Graphics.’ It was very much the very much the kind of ethic of the day.
I mean, remember Mozilla stood for Mosaic killer, right? That was the original. That was why Netscape’s code name for its internal browsers was Mozilla, or at least that’s what they claimed when the Godzilla trademark holders came after them.
And so what I think we missed was that this was the last hurrah. That the reason AT&T was shut down [00:10:00] in 82 is because the Reagan administration did understand that between AT&T and IBM, the American tech industry was being strangled, and they had to kill at least one of them. And they found it more politically palatable to kill the regulated monopoly than IBM, even though arguably, they were both as bad for the American tech sector.
And so they ideologically chose one, and then they let IBM go. It had been in 12 years of antitrust hell, they called it ‘antitrust’s Vietnam.’ Every year for 12 years leading up to 82 and the dropping of the suit, IBM outspent the entire Department of Justice antitrust division on lawyers to fight the DOJ.
So all the cases the DOJ was prosecuting in every industry across America had a lower bill than IBM’s one case, its own bill for one case. So we didn’t realize that when they took out AT&T but let IBM go, that it wasn’t because they were committing themselves to muscular antitrust. It was because it was like the last thing they were going to do.
And more importantly, they weren’t going to be on the job afterwards. So if the baby bells they split AT&T into wanted to merge with each other and recreate AT&T, they would just waive those mergers through, which in fact, they went on doing.
And the Microsoft antitrust action looked like a big deal, and then it got overturned on appeal. And that wasn’t accidental. There had been a foment in American politics, starting in the mid seventies from the Chicago School the far right economists who are really the architects of our modern system to revise antitrust law and neuter it. And that paid off.
There was a thing called the Mann Institute, which was a seminar series that was held in Florida, where judges would go for a free luxury junket every summer under the guise of continuing education, where they would get lectured on something called the consumer welfare theory of antitrust, which basically counseled forbearance against monopolies.
40% of the U.S. judiciary went through a Mann seminar and empirically, when you look at the outcome of their judgements before and after their attendance, you see that they became very [00:12:00] tolerant of monopolies. So it wasn’t a coincidence that Microsoft got let go.
What we failed to realize was that over time, the tech sector would use its access to the capital markets, not to found new, innovative firms, but to buy new innovative firms and crush them.
That was the Yahoo model, right? Just buy every cool company and mire it in endless bureaucratic politics until it was dead. If you want to have a good time, look up the Wikipedia page for companies Yahoo bought and killed.
It’s really, it’s like a tour down all the best online services you used for 15 years, until they kind of ran into money, until SoftBank– Yahoo got all their money from SoftBank. SoftBank got all their money from the Saudi royal family, right?
DOCTOROW: We failed to perceive that we would arrive at a web consisting of five giant websites filled with screenshots of text from the other four. Because anyone who ever tried to build a service that was as innovative and novel: Mozilla, or Netscape, as Mosaic, as even MSN, or SGI, or Adobe would find itself unable to compete. Because if it was good enough, one of those companies would just buy it and crush it. And otherwise, those companies would use predatory pricing and exclusive dealing and retail, price maintenance, the panoply of ancient antitrust sins that we decided to start tolerating in the early eighties, they would use that to ensure that no firm could grow to be a rival.
And that’s where we are now. And I think we missed it just to put a button on it. We didn’t miss that tech could be harmful. We did miss that access to the capital markets would produce this concentrated tech sector that would replace the distributed judgment of millions of people who operated services and use them with the judgment of five boardrooms, which is where we are.
SHEFFIELD: Well and the other thing also, there might have been more internal industry pressure against some of [00:14:00] these developments, in terms of smaller companies resisting or talking about this concentration, but at the same time, there was also the rise of techno libertarianism, which was basically not really that different from the Robert Bork antitrust approach, it was a “Leetspeak” version of Robert Bork.
And that mentality, it was always present in Silicon Valley from the very beginning, but it wasn’t the regnant philosophy in the early days, not necessarily. But I feel like with techno libertarianism, and libertarianism generally, have kind of taken some really bad turns in a number of ways. Would you say?
DOCTOROW: Yeah, so. I mean, I feel like, like again, I had a front row seat for a lot of this, because I work for Electronic Frontier Foundation. Its founders are closely associated with the techno- libertarian movement. John Perry Barlow wrote the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, which is a document that I find quite stirring, even though today I think many people hold it in quite bad odor. And we talked about this beforehand off-mic, but I guess that if you wanted to find a cleavage line to understand the different schools here, it would be in how you view regulatory capture.
And regulatory capture also comes out of the same Chicago School, it’s part of the body of economic thought called “public choice theory” that is very closely so associated with techno libertarians. And the theory goes: basically in most regulatory matters, there’s a small group of people who have a strong interest in the outcome, right? So if you’re like a polluter, it really matters to you what the pollution standards are.
And then there’s a bunch of people who have a weaker interest in what it should be. So like the people who might be downstream of the pollution, they might later on acquire a very strong interest in pollution regulation. But at the time that the regulation is being made, before the pollution is started, they are apt to be not particular exercised.
They’re not going to write comments for an EPA docket about the right amount of PCBs that can be released into the water [00:16:00] supply by a factory. And so, as a result, what you end up with is firms that end up capturing their regulators. And their regulators end up becoming a kind of agent of the firm, but with the power of the state behind them.
And they use that to exclude rivals. To make a, say, a pollution regulation that accommodates the processes that they hold, and maybe that they’ve patented. So no one else can replicate those processes, but prohibits all other processes. And so they become the only people who can open a paint factory.
And so the answer in public choice theory is to basically get rid of regulators. And if you get rid of the regulators, there’s no regulator to capture. And in then in theory, I guess the market works it out, right? Because you have a fair fight.
And I think that’s not well supported by the evidence. I think what we’ve learned over 40 years of trying that is that when you eliminate regulation, you don’t get a kind of race to the top where to take the example of the paint factory, again, you have two kinds of paint, one of which is causing rampant birth defects and cancer in the neighborhood that it’s made. And the other one is more responsibly made and people vote with their wallet.
What you end up with is that the people whose manufacturing processes externalize as much cost as possible are on the one hand, often able to obfuscate the extent to which they’re imposing costs on other people. So think of the tobacco industry or the energy industry engaged in things like cancer and climate denial. And on the other hand, they are able to shift who their customers are away from the people that they harm.
So the PCBs are released in a community of color or somewhere overseas. And the paint is sold to affluent people who have the wherewithal to create local ordinances that make sure that there’s no PCBs in their own drinking water.
And eventually, even those people “come a cropper,” because we have [00:18:00] entwined destinies. So eventually, the climate emergency catches up with them too, or the PCBs are so saturated in our industrial processes, or the microplastics or whatever it is, that they, too, suffer from it. But by then, it’s too late.
And then finally you have the problem of voting with your wallet altogether, which is that the more dollars you have in your wallet, the more votes you get. And so it’s not necessarily the result that even if people do wake up and decide to vote with their wallet, if billionaires get a billion votes, and people who are $400 in the hole at the end of the month, get minus 400 votes, then those people’s points of view are never represented in a referendum where votes are made with dollars. And so you have all of those that combine.
Then you have a progressive or leftist response to regulatory capture, which is making companies weak and making regulators accountable. So regulators can’t be accountable if all of the jobs that they get when they leave public service are in the industries they’re regulating, or all the jobs that they have before they enter public service are in the industries that they’re regulating, that can’t be accountable. They can only be accountable if we have fair elections, sunshine laws, if we don’t allow trade secrecy to obfuscate the terms of submissions by industry to regulators and so on.
And I think that we have some pretty good evidence that it’s at least possible to regulate well. People used to die of the food that they ate because we didn’t regulate it well, and it was un-hygienically produced, and now people don’t die of their food except in deregulated sectors, like baby food, where they do die from contamination.
And where those monopolists who are able to self-regulate, because self-regulation and monopoly are very closely related, your ability to convince your regulator that you should be left alone has a lot to do with whether you have any competitors. Because one of the things that competitors do is they fill the evidentiary record with reasons that you shouldn’t be left alone.
So if you’re Boeing and there’s no one else who shows up to say: ‘oh, do not let Boeing self-certify the 737 MAX, they’re a bunch [00:20:00] of cowboys,’ then the regulatory record is just full of people from Boeing explaining why the 737 MAX should be self-certified. And it isn’t until the planes are falling out of the sky that we revisit that decision.
DOCTOROW: And so there’s this leftist response that you have to blunt corporate power. And you have to hold regulators accountable, that is the way that you get there. And if you think of the internet as being a mix of people doing genuinely novel things and people trying to arbitrage regulation– there’s a fairly modern saying that every time you hear the word FinTech, think unregulated bank, and every time you hear the term cryptocurrency, think unregulated security. Really, these are just a way of skinning existing, heavily regulated activities in a thin scrim that allows them to gain the appearance of something that isn’t captured by the regulation and therefore engage in the conduct that the regulation would otherwise prohibit.
I think that there was really something real going on in fights over regulation, like the fights over regulating cryptography or the Communications Decency Act and its early censorship and monitoring duties and so on. To the extent that it was just used as a pretense to escape existing, largely sound regulation in order to enact the harms that the regulation had been created to prohibit, it was illegitimate.
There are people who were aligned with techno- libertarianism because they, for example, understood that as a technical and political matter, it was unreasonable to ban encryption and classed as a munition and limit access to it to the NSA. And that there were people who were just opposed to all regulation, per se, who believed in the same thing.
I’m a British citizen. I lived there for 13 years and I used to periodically call my MEP to ask them to vote against things happening in Brussels that I thought were bad. And my MEP was a Brexiteer– this is before Brexit– and every time I call him, he goes: ‘Look, [00:22:00] I keep explaining to you, I vote against everything. It doesn’t matter. My vote is always, no. You don’t need to call me. My vote will be no, because I just vote against all of it.’
There is an alliance between people who object to specific rules and people who object to all rules because they also object to those specific rules.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And the thing that I think a lot of this sort of techno libertarian mindset, it’s very concerned about governmental tyranny. That’s a fully legitimate concern, but there’s just this total blind spot, or even a preference in some, in the case of some techno libertarians, for private authoritarianism.
And you see it now that people are now actively talking about we should have government by corporation–
SHEFFIELD: –that that’s the best form of government. But the reality is of course that markets are inherently self-destructive. A free market, if it starts off with 10 or 12 or 15 companies, without any state intervention, is going to centralize to one or two, and that has happened again and again, and, not just in technology. That is the natural tendency.
And so all of the salutary effects that this sort of anti-regulatory posture says that you would have from a market, you lose them. So the competitors who would be saying: ‘Their software sucks, or their website’s insecure,’ or whatever, they’re not there anymore. Instagram is a perfect case in point, that it started off as this new and different thing, and Facebook just bought it up and proceeded to copy and steal everything from SnapChat, and TikTok, and everything else, and then at the same time accentuated the worst aspects about Instagram as a social media culture of fraudulent content and encouraging people to lie about their own lives. And it’s been so damaging now.
All these things that they claim you would get in this sort of unregulated marketplace, they don’t happen. They don’t [00:24:00] happen.
DOCTOROW: Yeah, and I think you’ve identified another important fracture line, that fracture line of concern about corporate and state power.
And it comes up in surveillance debates, but before it came up in surveillance debates, it was coming up in copyright debates, specifically the free software movement involved people who self-identified as libertarians, who are significant figures in the libertarian movement, who nevertheless resisted proprietary software as a form of corporate hegemony.
And you do see a kind of division in that movement with the founding of the term open source. Now this is getting a little in the weeds here, or it’s rehashing an old fight. I think calling it free software was a mistake because of the ambiguity. I know that Richard Stallman liked the ambiguity, that there was some word play there, it’s free as in speech, not free as in beer.
And he, I think, he viewed as an opportunity to have a discussion about the ethos of freedom with people who were confused. I think it did more harm than good.
Open source on the other hand, because it jettisoned the moral proposition of freedom, of the freedom to exercise technological self-determination in favor of the instrumental benefits of being able to read and audit source code and make improvements to it– because it focused on making better code, not making people more free, it produced an outcome that we’re living with today, where, if you want the source code to most of what Google does, it’s really easy to find it, right? Google’s cloud runs on the same software that you and I can use. And it’s all sitting there on GitHub. You can download that code. You can check in new alterations to it, but Google doesn’t have to adopt them.
And since most applications today loop through Google’s services or Facebook’s or Apple’s, [00:26:00] what they have is software freedom. And what you have is open source, because you can’t write code that allows you to exercise technological self-determination where that self-determination conflicts with Google’s priorities.
You can see the code, you can make changes to the code, but you can’t make those changes on Google, and you need to use Google’s infra to make your stuff happen. And so the skepticism about corporate power really did kind of schism off with the open source movement.
Although not entirely, they, it remained somewhat intact to the extent that it became a front in arguments about copyright more broadly. Where the open source movement and the free software movement converged on things like Creative Commons and the open culture movement, and the idea that locking up cultural touchstones in regulated monopoly and then giving firms the power to reach out beyond the four walls of the firm and control the conduct of online service providers in the name of defending their copyrights was itself a bridge too far in a source of corporate power.
And I think what’s interesting about the free culture movement is it did fuse a critique of state power with a critique of corporate power. It said that it’s the regulated monopoly of copyright combined with the hegemony of a highly concentrated entertainment industry that produces the risks from copyright to a free and open internet.
That critique or that synthesis is where we’re coming to in the debate about public and private surveillance. So there are people who say: ‘Well, I, I fear government surveillance.’ Whenever I go to Silicon Valley and give a talk at a tech firm or to a tech audience about the NSA, they’ll say ‘I don’t worry about Google spying on me because they just want to show me better ads, but the NSA is full of people who are too dumb to work at Google and they want to put me in a gulag. And so I don’t want them spying [00:28:00] on me.’
And then if I’m inside the Beltway or talking to the West Point Cyber Institute, they’ll say, ‘I got security clearance. I work with these people. They just want to defend the country, but Google they’d sell their mothers for a nickel. I don’t want them spying on me. My employer, Uncle Sam, in order to get my clearance, I had to tell them everything. They already know all my secrets, but Google acquired my secrets illegitimately.’
What I think we’re arriving at is an understanding that the reason that Google can spy so effectively, and with so much forbearance from the state, and the reason that other tech firms are also able to affect this mass surveillance is that the state really relies on private firms to do its own state surveillance.
If the NSA or the FBI had to scratch-build a system that would identify everyone that was at a protest, it would cost them trillions, and they would run up against all kinds of constitutional barriers. But, if the FBI serves a geofenced reverse warrant on Google and says, tell me the identifiers of everyone in this location inside this rectangle at this time, they can– often without a warrant, but even with a warrant that’s not so hard to procure– affect the exact same thing.
So Google relies on the state’s forbearance that allows it to collect data on us. And the state relies on Google’s data collection to affect public surveillance. And it is a symbiotic relationship in the same way that we who worried about free culture identified a symbiotic relationship between state monopoly power in the form of the limited monopoly grant of copyright and the the power of a highly concentrated entertainment industry to structure our everyday communications and our lives by exercising that state monopoly.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. And what’s kind of interesting is that to a small degree, there [00:30:00] seems to be some at least discussion on the political right about general skepticism toward “Big Tech,” quote unquote.
But the critique that they’re making is fundamentally flawed and awful. And it’s also hilarious that it’s being made and funded in part by Peter Thiel, a guy who is at literally at the nexus of government and private surveillance capitalism. His entire business is built around that type of surveillance and that type of privacy invasion.
DOCTOROW: He explicitly advocates for monopoly and calls, competition wasteful. He says competition is for losers.
SHEFFIELD: Exactly. And of course, how is that a free market mentality? Of course it isn’t. The reality is that you need a government to have a free market because they can’t sustain themselves. But at the same time with this whole right wing big tech criticism that you’re seeing, it seems to be largely devolving to ‘they banned me because I like to post Hitler memes.’ And that seems to mostly be what it is.
Now at the same time, I think it’s useful as a political posture for them to be able to say ‘well we’re anti big business too.’ And people on the political left seem to not see the salience for that issue, and don’t really respond to the ludicrous and disingenuousness of it, do you think?
DOCTOROW: Well, I think you’re right that the overall animus towards big tech from the Republican party and figures in the right more generally is very instrumental, and not driven by any kind of philosophical objection to large firms being able to structure the daily lives of everyday people.
One thing we talked about briefly before we went on air was the political scientist, Corey Robin’s theory of what it means to be on the right. So Robin, he wrote this great book called The Reactionary Mind and he says we have all these different philosophies we call “the right,” there’s monarchists, and there’s Christian dominionists, and there’s imperialists, but there’s also isolationist libertarians who want to [00:32:00] dismantle the army and just stay at home. There’s white nationalists, there’s Hindu nationalists.
What does it mean to be on the right? What is it that makes all these things right wing movements? And he says it’s something as old as the French Revolution, and it’s also as old as Plato’s Republic, it’s the idea that some of us are born to rule and some of us are born to be ruled over. And that the problem isn’t that we’re being ruled over, it’s whether we’re being ruled over by the right people.
This is why the objection to affirmative action is so salient to right wing thought. Because if you believe that some people are born to rule, and that there’s a sorting mechanism that selects them. If you’re a monarchist, the sorting mechanism is emerging from the correct genitals. If you’re a libertarian, it’s the invisible hand, but there are all these different ways of sorting taking place.
And what affirmative action does, is it upends the order. And it makes the world a worse place because it lets bad people be in charge.
SHEFFIELD: Prevents the natural hierarchy.
DOCTOROW: Yeah. Yeah. The philosopher king is at the bottom of the pyramid and you’ve got someone who should be just be happy to have a toga and sandals running things. And the objection I see from the right to tech firms is not that they’re picking winners, but they’re picking the wrong winners. That they’re picking people who disagree with them. They’re all for, for example, people being kicked off platforms for advocating for LGBTQ or for claiming that it is illegitimate for Israel to occupy Palestinian territory.
You’ll often hear them say that they believe in free speech, but not libel, by which they mean rich people should be able to shut up their critics.
So like Elon Musk.
SHEFFIELD: Peter Thiel again there.
DOCTOROW: Yeah. Peter Thiel or Elon Musk, who in his weird Twitter sojourn has frequently said ‘we should police libel, but not other forms of speech’ is also a guy who libeled someone else– called a British expatriate in [00:34:00] Thailand who wanted to rescue some children from a cave a pedophile– and didn’t advance it as hyperbole or a statement of opinion, but rather kind of as a statement of fact to the material detriment of this person and was able to buy his way out of the charge.
These people have this instrumental view. They want the good guys to be able to shut up the bad guys. And they don’t want a world in which you have unfettered free speech. They want a certain kind of free speech. And so, I think that, as the Trash Future Podcast likes to say, that a lot of the right wing energy for breaking up big tech could be assuaged simply by opening every board meeting of a big tech company with a ‘stolen likes’ acknowledgement in which we acknowledge that we stand here on a fortune built on the ‘likes’ that were stolen by the shadow banned figures of the right. And that would resolve all of their complaints.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Or they could just start with an opening prayer and that would shut them up as well.
DOCTOROW: But I think that– here’s why I’m sanguine about that, or somewhat sanguine about it. And it’s the same reason that I’m sanguine about the fact that a lot of the energy for big tech antitrust is coming from other monopolized sectors like telecoms and entertainment.
Disney is four-square for big tech antitrust. And so is Comcast, which is, of course, part of Universal. They’re like the crossover between big entertainment and big telco. And they all think that we can rouse the sleeping giant of antitrust, get it to fight a single battle against their enemies, and then put it back into a coma for another 40 years until we need it again.
And what the history of antitrust tells us is that this is not how it works. That people move from strength to strength, and victory to victory. And when they find themselves having successfully managed an antitrust victory. Having broken up a dominant firm or dominant industry, that emboldens enforcers and the public, who give them the political will to act boldly. And they move [00:36:00] on to the next and the next. I think they’re playing a very dangerous game, and I’m all I’m here for it. By all means play that dangerous game.
SHEFFIELD: And it’s interesting also that, with this whole antitrust discussion, it’s just finally coming up also on the left as well.
So at the same time you got this sort of disingenuous right wing antitrust and they actually, to some degree are, in some states actually trying to sign on to some antitrust lawsuits.
SHEFFIELD: Like they’ve got the wrong motivation, but hey, we’ll take it.
SHEFFIELD: But at the same time, it is something that I think a lot of people, especially in the upper echelons of the center left, they don’t understand that this is something that is very powerful as a political messaging device. It’s yet another way in which the political right has basically tried to capture this widespread and justified anger at our current economic system, and inequality, and racial inequality, and other forms of discrimination that exist. The right is basically trying to say: ‘Yes, that’s all real, you’re right to be upset,’ but then don’t really want to offer any solutions.
SHEFFIELD: Whereas, the left has basically evolved into ‘well, the system’s not so bad, you should just take your lot and get over it.’
DOCTOROW: Yeah, this is a thing that anthropologists call schismogenesis, or you might call it like the enemy of my enemy. There’s a really good book about this. David Graeber, Dawn of Everything is the last book David Graeber wrote before he died. And it’s a massive anthropology of how different cultures evolve and schismogenesis is the idea that we define ourselves by not being like the people next door.
So if you look at say Pacific tribes of the pre-Columbian age, indigenous tribes of the pre-Columbian age, you would have neighboring tribes where on this side, the thing that made you fit to be a ruler is that you would never be seen doing heavy work. And on this side, the thing that defines you as a ruler is that you perform heroic feats of strength.
And we can imagine both of those. We’ve seen both, there are modern equivalents to both of those. And so, [00:38:00] a way that this played out in liberal, and even to a certain extent left politics in the Trump years, is a bunch of people who went: ‘Well, James Comey hates Donald Trump. Maybe the FBI is great, actually?’
Maybe the organization that told Martin Luther King to kill himself, and spied on protest movements and seeded them with provocateurs and led to the arrest of people who were advocating for human rights abroad and so on. Maybe they’re actually my friends because they hate Donald Trump.
The inability to conceive of people having shared an animus with you when you disagree with them about everything else is a real problem. And it’s a problem. I think you might be right in identifying it as a pathology at least of liberal thought, if not left thought.
I don’t know that it’s as widespread in the right. I think in the right it tends to be more aesthetic. Think of John Birch Society people burning Beatles records, it’s like ‘this is degenerate and we are aesthetically committed to something that is different, to Pat Boone instead of John Lennon.’ When really neither of them were particularly that political.
It’s really about like the clothes you’re wearing and not the ideas you’re espousing. And, as we see with Bikers for Trump, you can look like a counterculture figure and still be foursquare for reactionary politics. It doesn’t say anything what you wear, doesn’t really say anything about who you are politically.
So I think that there are people, especially on the liberal side who see that right wing antitrust includes some genuinely bat-shit ideas, like must-carry rules where you say that tech firms must have, are legally required to carry certain points of view. If you carry one point of view, you have to carry the other. Sometimes it’s called a fairness doctrine.
And I don’t think that the right actually wants this. They don’t want to make sure that there’s a dedicated Black Lives Matter for them on Gab, where all they do [00:40:00] is talk about the importance of Black Lives Matter and critical race theory, right?
SHEFFIELD: And in fact, actually privately to themselves, they will explicitly say, ‘I don’t favor free speech. But we will use that as an argument because it’s useful.’
DOCTOROW: I think that there are people who are actual free speech absolutists within this camp. I wouldn’t call it thoughtlessness, but it’s an inability to understand that the heckler’s veto is more powerful when you start at a social disadvantage. So when you say ‘when I espouse my point of view if you can’t take it, get off Twitter,’ they don’t really understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a really powerful torrent.
The one exception I would actually say, although I’m, I think he’s a poltroon, is Elon Musk. I actually think Elon Musk is legitimately motivated by the trauma of being on the wrong end of a lot of Twitter trolling.
And the reason I think this is that one time Elon Musk tweeted, ‘I consider myself a utopian socialist in the mold of Iain Banks,’ this great Scottish science fiction writer, who I knew. I wasn’t a close pal of his, but I knew him. He was a socialist and a union man. And I couldn’t keep my hands off it. I replied and I said, ‘I knew Iain. He was a staunch union advocate. National Labor Relations Board is coming after you for the way you run your factories. I don’t think you get to call yourself utopian socialist in the mold of Iain Banks.’
And he came back and he said, well, I’ve read Iain Banks as science fiction novels, the culture novels. And there’s no trade unions in them. And I said, yes, because they’re set a million years in the future on spaceships the size of solar systems with a trillion people living on them that travel at hundreds of times the speed of light run by omnipotent and omniscient artificial intelligences.
And he said, well, if banks could have seen one of my factories, he would’ve understood also that I don’t need unions either, because I’m doing something very advanced too. [00:42:00]
And I said, I’m sorry. I just don’t think that eeking out marginal gains in the production of electric vehicles rises to the level of traveling faster than the speed of light. And then he called me an enemy of progress or an enemy of humanity and blocked me. (Laughter)
But the outcome, the reason I tell that story is that if you have ever been in an exchange with Elon Musk, you will be hammered for the rest of your life by bots and trolls, trying to put him on tilt, many of whom I think have short positions in Tesla.
I just caught 1 percent of what it’s like to be in his mentions. And I’ve been in the mentions of friends of mine who are women who are involved in games journalism, or comics writing, where I’ve seen the things that get said to them.
SHEFFIELD: Oh yeah.
DOCTOROW: I think they’re more violent, the things that get said to those women, and maybe more vile, but I think Musk actually has a bigger volume of genuinely awful things said to him just relentlessly.
So I actually think Musk maybe knows.
SHEFFIELD: Well, I guess, but he’s still trying to stand up for them actually now. And like he’s been radicalized by the right. And this is what’s so hilarious is that you now see people saying things like, and Musk is one of them, that ‘I used to be on the left when Obama was there, because the left was reasonable.’
But if you go back and look at the contemporary right wing discourse about Barack Obama, it was, ‘I used to be a Democrat when Bill Clinton was the president, but now with Obama, they’ve gone out,’ and literally this is exactly what they do every single time.
DOCTOROW: I actually think what you really want to look at is campaign contributions. Because what you’ll find is that during the Obama years, Musk was primarily donating to Republicans. I think that in addition to it being unreasonable, it’s also untrue that he was primarily a Democratic supporter during the Obama years. I mean, empirically he wasn’t.
I think that there are a fair number of liberals who just say, ‘if the [00:44:00] right wants to force Twitter to carry Alex Jones and that’s what their version of antitrust is, then I’m pro monopoly.’ And then their place where the liberal and left critique meet is maybe these companies should be utilities. And ironically, that’s also a thing that some of the people on the right are saying, or they’re actually, some of them are actually arguing that they are utilities. I can’t remember if Scalia made it or Thomas, but one of them actually made it in a dissent, but–
SHEFFIELD: Thomas just recently said something to that effect.
DOCTOROW: Yeah. Yeah, no, I think it’s a dissent that he made before that got cited in a recent brief. It was cited in the Texas social media law case, his earlier dissent.
But the idea that we should make them into utilities is I think misguided as well. And I think it’s misguided because it discounts the possibility that, or rather the impossibility of formulating a single moderation policy that is appropriate for the hundreds of millions or billions of people who use social media services.
The problem isn’t just that they’re unfair or that they under-invest in moderation. The problem is that context matters. Like there are communities of people of color where the “N word” is considered to be something that they can say, even if other people can’t. And there are other communities of color where that is untrue. And any imposition by a firm of a norm that explains which one of those is going to be the rule is, it’s unfair, it’s unjust, and it doesn’t fight racism. It just decides unilaterally what is, and isn’t permissible discourse.
DOCTOROW: And so what we need to have is a multiplicity of conversational spaces, with a multiplicity of moderation policies that are devolved to the people who participate in those conversations.
SHEFFIELD: Well, and that’s why in terms of discussing Facebook, in addition to breaking it up, I also favor forcing them to open up their APIs so that–
SHEFFIELD: –if you don’t like Facebook, [00:46:00] and you don’t agree with their moderation policies, then you actually would be able to still participate. And to a limited extent, I am sympathetic to a utility argument in regards to services that they provide to you. So like photo hosting or file sharing or things like that. These are things that are not necessarily a social component. They’re just, it’s your stuff. It’s your private stuff. You’re primarily the only person who looks at it.
So I think that if somebody is banned from some network, that they should still have the right to their private correspondence on that network.
SHEFFIELD: And because that is a utility aspect. And but yeah, the overall the utility argument fails, because it’s not, these are not utilities. These are communities. And so in the same way that you can’t say that the federal government doesn’t go off and say, ‘Well, we’re going to decide what is obscenity in Maryland and in Utah,’ these are dramatically different jurisdictions. And so it makes sense for them to have different standards because that’s how it works offline. And that’s how it needs to work online.
DOCTOROW: Yeah. And I don’t think you have to go to a utility model to say that people have rights to the data that they stored on a service or the right to carry over. Your landlord gets to kick you out of your house, although, I’m not big on eviction laws either, but your landlord gets to kick you out of the house. It doesn’t get to keep all your stuff, right?
A restaurant can decide to sling your ass because you’re making too much noise. They don’t get to keep your wallet. Even where we say there’s a private right to exclude someone or to withdraw a service from someone, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to inflict additional kind of cruelties upon them, just because you can’t agree about whether or not they should have a legitimate use of your service.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah, exactly.
DOCTOROW: And they don’t have to be a utility for that, right? We don’t have to make every bar that kicks out a drunk a utility to make sure that they drunk gets to keep their wallet when they get kicked out.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. No, very true. Very true. Alright, well, real quick here before we wrap up, let’s get into [00:48:00] cryptocurrency just a little bit.
DOCTOROW: If we must.
SHEFFIELD: And obviously that’s a big topic. But you know, cryptocurrency, it’s like a rehash. So much of the things that people think are a new sort of, dramatic innovation or whatever, it’s really just a rehash of something that came before in some ways. So like for the longest time in the United States, businesses could issue, I mean it became illegal after a while, but businesses issued currency.
DOCTOROW: They were called wildcat banks.
SHEFFIELD: That’s right. That’s right.
DOCTOROW: They were called back because they had crazy animals on the money.
SHEFFIELD: And that was a thing that was very common, and eventually it caused a lot of problems and people decided, ‘Okay, you know what? We’re not going to allow this anymore.’ That’s essentially what we’re seeing with crypto, isn’t it?
DOCTOROW: Well, it’s one of the things that I think you can say about crypto, that they’re a form of wildcat bank. They’re also, I think a form of neo-metalists. So you know, the other thing that we used to have was a gold standard, and there’s a lot of romance among metalists, who are people who like gold standards, or gold and silver about how that was run.
The reality is that every government, even the ones that operated on gold standards, also issued what they disparagingly call fiat currency. Fiat just means ‘because I say so,’ so money that was worth something because they said so, because the reality is that the monetary supply and the growth of the economy are not necessarily well coupled or well matched.
And so when the economy gets bigger, you need more money to transact services or the value of the money starts to fall. When the ratio for goods and services for sale in a currency to the amount of currency changes, if it changes such that there’s more goods and fewer dollars, or fewer dollars per good, then the value of goods goes down, the value of dollars goes up. Which may sound great, but what in practice it does is it makes people not spend. If your dollar is worth twice as much tomorrow as it was today, why would you [00:50:00] spend it today unless you absolutely had to? And this can cause this called deflation, and it can cause economic collapses.
SHEFFIELD: And it’s much worse than inflation.
DOCTOROW: Sure. For that reason. And the causes of inflation are rather mysterious. They’re not entirely about money creation. In fact, some of the big examples of hyperinflation like Weimar Germany historically did not unfold the way that we remember them.
So Weimar Germany is remembered as a moment of excessive money creation that sent prices up. And in fact, it was quite the reverse. The prices went up so fast that there wasn’t enough money. And what ended up happening is that shopkeepers were empowered to create money, to make their payroll.
They were effectively turned into fiscal agents, because people were demanding more money in order to buy the things whose prices were going up. And so the money creation followed the price inflation, not the other way around. Just as an historic matter, if you go back and you look at the timeline that’s what happened.
So the question is why did prices go up in Weimar, before the money creation happened, right? What drove the increase in prices? What I think is most plausibly, the underlying cause, the increase in prices was obligation to pay war reparations stemming from the Treaty of Versailles after World War I in gold. And they ran out of gold. And so they, they couldn’t import things because nobody wanted to take Deutche Marks for stuff. They wanted hard currency for stuff.
And so they ran out of stuff. So there were bidding wars for stuff which drove the prices up, right? So it was a matter of capacity. They couldn’t make this stuff domestically, because their own industrial capacity had been destroyed by war, and by the decision to orient their productive capacity around war making.
And then they hadn’t been able to rebuild after the war, because they had to make reparations to the nations they were belligerent against. And there’s a funny story about this, which is that Woodrow Wilson, who is the American negotiator at the treaty of Versailles, the president at the time, [00:52:00] understood that this was an outcome. And he was very adamant that war reparations from Germany not destabilize the German economy because he thought that it would lead them into becoming a military belligerent power again.
And on the key day when they were supposed to be negotiating this, he got the flu during the flu pandemic, and he basically stepped away from the negotiations and the French and other victims of German aggression came up with a reparations package that destroyed the German economy and led them into the kind of desperate circumstances in which the ideas of Adolph Hitler sounded palatable.
So really, as we live through this pandemic, it’s funny to think about the extent to which all of these are related, but this hyperinflation was not reckless money creation. It was other exogenous factors. It was a failure to have the domestic capacity to produce and gold to buy. And so they were, their economy was hamstrung.
But the idea of cryptocurrency at its origin. The Nakamoto paper, the Satoshi paper from 2008, that lays out the case for it is very explicitly about taking away the power to create money from governments, because of the belief that governments will do reckless money creation.
It’s not entirely wrong. I mean, the decision of the Trump administration to do quantitative easing, not to assume payrolls and keep people afloat, or to give people the money to pay their rent. There was some stimulus, but it was very small, the major source of spending relief spending in the CARES Act and in the other relief bills was in the form of buying corporate paper, right? Buying corporate bonds, which created this huge boom in the securities market, in the asset market, which included the NFT market and the baseball card market and all these other collectibles and speculative assets that went bananas.
And it was bad for society. It did create all kinds of problems, but not because it was money creation per se, but because it was money creation [00:54:00] allocated in a way that was guaranteed to produce asset bubbles, as opposed to maintaining the integrity of the economy through a period of shutdown, such that when the economy came back on again, people would be able to resume their productive activities.
SHEFFIELD: And then they did the same thing earlier with the tax cut, which was skewed toward upper income, and so was not actually simulative of aggregate demand.
DOCTOROW: Sure. Yeah. Well, to the extent that it created a aggregate demand, it was in single family homes that private equity funds went and bought and turned into slums. That, that was a form of aggregate demand creation that came out of the tax break. It just wasn’t very good for the country.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. But in terms of cryptocurrency though, there is this claim that they’re trying to defeat governmental induced scarcity. Some people will say, ‘ Crypto is good because it can provide access to financial markets to people who don’t have credit and could never have it whether because of poverty, or where they live or other circumstances.’
I think that there’s some truth in that argument, because there is a serious problem in our human society, not just in this country, but other countries, where it’s almost like a metalism of education, that if you don’t have these educational certificates or whatever, then you’re not admitted into society in certain ways. So these are real things that are happening, but crypto, as currently constituted in this sort of unregulated wildcat market, it’s not the solution for it. And it can’t be.
DOCTOROW: Well, I mean, again the record’s pretty replete on the problems of unregulated credit markets, right? It goes back to Christ casting out the money changers. We go as far back as ancient Babylon and the practice of jubilee. Michael Hudson is a great writer on this, and historian on this, but jubilee was the practice of the king periodically declaring all debts–
SHEFFIELD: And it was in the Hebrew Bible as well.
DOCTOROW: –void. Yeah. Well, so the, a lot of stuff from the Old Testament comes out of [00:56:00] the Babylonians. They also wrote the Genesis story.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. So, and actually the Egyptians had something kind of similar to this also.
DOCTOROW: Sure. A lot of civilizations in antiquity did. And the reason for it wasn’t that these kings were good natured slobs who didn’t like to see people being debt burdened.
It was because debt service would swallow the productive activity of their kingdoms. So the wealth of the kingdom and their ability to leverage that wealth to make war, or amass riches, or make monuments, or any of the other things that kings wanted to do. And we can substitute the will of kings for the will of democratically accountable legislatures.
All of that was hamstrung because rather than doing productive things, people were doing things that had exchange value so that they could raise coins so that they could service debt. And that debt would just be hoarded, and then the debt would be hoarded by people who had lots of money.
And because people were no longer productive, they would have need of more credit, and that extra credit they needed would then lead them to greater indebtedness, and so on. So there was a vicious cycle and there’s a kind of natural selection there, right? Political systems that didn’t practice jubilee collapsed under the weight of debt service and were replaced by ones where jubilee was in there.
It means that we need to make regulation grounded in evidence, practiced by people who are don’t have conflicts of interest and are accountable to the public and so on. And it’s true, our credit markets are a mess, and they do practice a form of racial discrimination, and they do magnify the problems of of inequality, the ProPublica IRS files, where they have gained access to the IRS returns of the richest people in America has identified and codified a practice called, what is it?
SHEFFIELD: Buy, borrow, die.
DOCTOROW: Buy, borrow, die. That’s it. Yeah, that’s right. So you have an asset, that asset is sheltered. It’s never taxed because you never liquidate the asset. You stake the asset as collateral, you borrow, you borrow at incredibly favorable rates. You use that to acquire more assets, and then when you die, you use favorable inheritance–
SHEFFIELD: And untaxed borrowing, yeah.
DOCTOROW: Yeah. That’s right. [00:58:00] And then you use the very favorable terms for passing on assets to your descendants, so that they’re never taxed, even when you die.
And so you just have the acquisition and growth of billions and billions in fortunes that live in a state of untaxable grace, and you and I don’t have access to that, right? You have to be, you have to have billions of dollars to make billions of dollars.
And this produces, Thomas Piketty kind of identified this in Capital in the Twenty-First Century that if the biggest predictor of whether you will have wealth at the end of your life is whether you had wealth at the start of your life, we don’t live in a meritocracy, even if such a thing is possible.
Unless you think that there’s such a thing as a hereditary meritocracy, unless you’re a closet eugenicist, then the fact that all the people who have money when they die are people who had money when they were born is evidence that we don’t live in a meritocracy.
These unregulated debt markets have been very predatory. They remain very predatory. They create big structural problems. The last round of structurally significant exotic debt instruments were the instruments that led up to the 2008 collapse, the great financial crisis. And all of these found ways to step outside the regulatory framework so they could make loans that were considered too risky under the existing regulation.
And then as a means of trying to contain the risk, they used contracts to limit the freedom of motion of the counterparties to a debt. So for example, contracts that promised that the party would not seek relief from a bankruptcy court.
In the wake of the great financial crisis, they were called suicide notes because what they said was that if the smartest thing for both parties would be to restructure the debt so that you wouldn’t see a fire sale of assets.
So say you’re a creditor who has made a loan that was collateralized based on some underlying asset, like a house. And you’ve made lots of these loans. You’ve made thousands and thousands of these loans, and one person or a group of [01:00:00] people are in danger of default. It is in your interest to keep them in the house rather than having hundreds of houses all enter the market in the same neighborhood at the same time, because that will crash the value of all the other houses that you’ve loaned money that have been muddled together to buy.
DOCTOROW: And then they all enter default and it’s called the fire sale. And at the time we called it contagion, right, where you have the defaults leading to defaults, mass waves of bankruptcy.
And then it hops asset classes. You have people who used houses to borrow money for other things like cars, and then it triggers a mass sell-off of cars, or to borrow money for education or whatever. And then everybody has to drop out of university. And so you have this kind of spiraling debt.
And so in the cryptocurrency world, we have the exact same thing, except it’s automated. So in cryptocurrency, you have lots and lots of high risk loans being offered, often they’re very high risk because they’re being offered to people who are pseudonymous, so about whom we can know nothing. These high risk loans are being offered and they’re being collateralized with extremely volatile cryptocurrency.
SHEFFIELD: Or even the cryptocurrency itself in many cases has no collateralization at all.
DOCTOROW: Right. So that cryptocurrency that’s just grounded on faith, right?
DOCTOROW: On vibes say, right. So you’ve got someone’s coin that is being staked to borrow something else. And so that coin is intrinsically volatile. And it’s volatile in part because it’s deflationary. By design, there is no central bank and a cryptocurrency issuer. So there is no one who can increase and decrease the supply based on the demand. So we normally, if you believe in markets, you think that supply and demand find equilibrium with one another.
If people want cars and there’s not enough cars, and the price is high, it tempts people to open car factories, and the price comes down, and then the demand and the supply cross over, but with cryptocurrency that doesn’t have a central bank that can adjust the monetary supply, you only have demand, which varies, right?
How many cryptocurrency units you want goes up [01:02:00] and down based on whether Matt Damon has done a compelling ad, whether you need a bunch of money to pay a ransomware, whether the other assets are crashing, and you’re trying to find a safe haven for your money.
So the demand for cryptocurrency is moving up and down. The supply is static. And so what that means is that the price rather than tending towards equilibrium will always be dis-equilibriated, because you have one thing that is variable, and one thing that is invariable, and they can’t find that equilibrium.
So you have these underlying assets that ,are first of all, they’re grounded, as you say, in belief, right? So that itself is somewhat volatile. And then you have them by design not being able to adjust supply based on demand. So that makes them very volatile. And they’re being used as collateral in loans.
And so the people who issue these loans are worried about risk because the collateral might change in value very quickly. And so they use smart contracts that say that if the collateralization drops below a certain threshold, the loan is instantly liquidated and called in. So the smart contract takes the money out of your wallet and moves it into your creditor’s wallet, without any human intervention).
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Which of course intervention is further deflationary.
DOCTOROW: Well, also a suicide note.
DOCTOROW: On steroids.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Oh, it is.
DOCTOROW: No one at AIG and Deutsche Bank can sit down and say, ‘Okay guys wait, before we call in all of these loans, it’s going to crash both of our institutions. I know we said we wouldn’t do this, but maybe we can renegotiate.’ And maybe a regulator steps in shotgun wedding, these two firms have to merge, or these are nullified or we’re hitting pause.
SHEFFIELD: Or we’re stopping trading.
DOCTOROW: So none of that can happen by design, right? That’s what it’s for. It’s to stop the politicization of money, and to make it all run automatically.
SHEFFIELD: Well, and the other inherent problem also is the idea of mining. The problem is it’s entirely based on computational power. It is not based on merit in any sort of way. So like, if I’ve got the best idea, I’m the smartest person in the world, [01:04:00] but I can’t afford to get a GPU to make cryptocurrency, then it’s further concentrating wealth. So that basically the only people who can mine are the people who already have money to buy the CPUs and GPUs.
DOCTOROW: I agree that there’s a, that there’s a certain degree. And especially with proof of stake where the more coins you have, the more money you can make by staking them.
But I think even more so is that new coin issuance starts by holding back a large allocation of those coins for the founders. So the people who are in a position to issue a successful coin, start with a very large tranche of those coins by design, it’s supposed to be that way.
SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it’s a rigged system. So like everything that crypto claims to do, it actually, to a large degree, does the opposite.
SHEFFIELD: I think you could argue that.
DOCTOROW: That’s what I do argue. When I hear people involved in crypto and Web Three talk about their suspicion of centralized power and their desire to eliminate surveillance and blunt corporate power. I feel like I’m on the same side as them.
I think that they have methodological flaws and epistemological flaws. Their understanding of the world is flawed, and their understanding how to fix it is flawed, apropos the Theory of Change podcast here. But I think that there’s some common ground there.
I think it’s a more profound common ground than say Marsha Blackburn has when she talks about big tech antitrust with say Elizabeth Warren, I think that’s a pretty thin common ground. I feel like I have more common ground with many people in the cryptocurrency movement than that. And, you know, it’s an area where I think it’s worth exploring.
The fact that I think that we should regulate finance and in fact, reign in finance, and make finance a small, insignificant part of our economy, doesn’t mean that I want to centralize power. And maybe we can agree on that part.
SHEFFIELD: I think that’s a great sentiment there. Alright, well so that’s our program today. I’d like to thank our guest Cory Doctorow for being here today. And please do check [01:06:00] him out on Twitter he’s over at doctorow. And then he’s got his website, Pluralistic.net.